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Robert Downey Jr. reportedly playing Iron Man in 'Captain America 3'

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Film will introduce 'Civil War' plot line

It looks like Robert Downey Jr. will be putting the Iron Man suit back on again for some big roles in the Marvel universe. According to Variety, Downey is close to signing on to play Iron Man in Captain America 3, taking up a significant role in the film that will help it introduce a new phase of Marvel movies.

The film will reportedly find Iron Man and Captain America feuding over a law called the Superhero Registration Act, which requires heroes to register with the US government to do its bidding. Iron Man is in favor of the legislation, while Captain America says it's a threat to civil liberties. In that sense, Downey may actually be playing one of the film's villains. The storyline comes directly out of Marvel's "Civil War" series from 2006.

Downey's role may carry on into future 'Avengers' films

The addition of Downey is certainly a surprise, as it had looked for a while now like he would only be returning for the second and third Avengers films, which he'd already been contracted to do. Variety reports that Downey has been pushing for a substantial role in the next Captain America and that he's expressed interest in maintaining a presence in Marvel's films into the future. The publication even speculates that the storyline that Downey's character kicks off could lead into a role for him in a fourth Avengers film. Separately, Badass Digest reports that the Russo Brothers — who were behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier and are working on its sequel — are in talks to direct the next two Avengers films.

While it isn't perfectly clear how the Marvel universe unfolds from here, news of Iron Man's return and the Civil War plot line give a sense of its direction. Variety reports that the battle in Captain America 3 may propel Marvel's overarching narrative for the next seven years. It'll also help the studio eventually bring together a new set of core heroes, such as Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, who will eventually be stars in an Avengers film. Older characters may ultimately be phased out due in part to contract issues.

Though there are currently no plans for a fourth Iron Man movie, it's still easy to see why Marvel would want Downey to stick around: Iron Man is its biggest star, and putting the character in another huge series seems like a good way to build a hit. Beyond that, a large, ongoing role for Downey could help to carry any future films that he's in — which may be necessary in helping sell the next cadre of Avengers.

Captain America 3 is currently planned for a release on May 6th, 2016. Avengers: Age of Ultron is headed to theaters on May 1st of next year.